Oregon Week’s Burning Question: How To Build A Successful Program With Player Uncertainty?

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 13th, 2012

It’s that time again, as Adam Butler of Pachoops.com joins us again for our Burning Question for the Oregon program, concerning whether or not Dana Altman can build a successful program with constant player departures. 

Oregon has become the poster child for one of the biggest problems facing college basketball today: transfers. In his two seasons at Oregon, Dana Altman has seen four players transfer and five more who left the team that still had eligibility remaining when they land elsewhere. That’s an average of four and a half players that have left per year, an astronomical number for a 13-scholarship limit. It’s not like all of these players were sitting on the bench and not making an impact either; Malcom Armstead, Brett Kingma, Jabari Brown, and Bruce Barron were either making an impact or were expected to by the end of the season when they left. So the question is, can Altman build a successful program in Eugene with the constant cloud of player and rotation uncertainty hovering above, or does he need to change the way he recruits and coaches to find and keep players who will stay for three or four years?
Player Departures Since Altman Took Over In 2010-11

  • Teondre Williams – Transferred to Clayton State
  • Martin Seiferth – Transferred to Eastern Washington
  • Malcolm Armstead – Transferred to Wichita State
  • Nicholas Fearn – Left team but has yet to enroll in another school
  • Matt Losli – Left team but has yet to enroll in another school
  • John Elorriaga – Left team but has yet to enroll in another school
  • Brett Kingma – Left team but has yet to enroll in another school
  • Jabari Brown – Transferred to Missouri
  • Bruce Barron – Left team but has yet to enroll in another school

Altman Has Had Much To Celebrate In His First Two Seasons At Oregon Despite Losing Nine Players Since He Took The Job

Adam Butler: Yes. Dana Altman has proven he can build a winner – he did so at Creighton – and I believe he’ll do the same in Eugene. He’s already exceeded expectations in his first two years with a pair of postseason appearances after the Ducks took one of the fastest falls from the Elite Eight to a 2-16 conference team that anyone has ever seen. And maybe that’s where we need to start. Sinking ships tend to have jumpers (Never let go, Jack), and so round one of the transfers I’m comfortable chalking up to the old guard recognizing they were Kent guys in the wrong place. Altman isn’t your guy and you’re not his. A mutual parting. To address the others and to do such without making grandiose excuses for nine total transfers in two years, perhaps we need an analogy.

I simply think things just didn’t work out. It’s like rushing into a relationship. There’s a honeymoon phase where everyone’s giddy about the clever date pieced together and it’s all very exciting (see: recruiting visits, signing day, etc.). And then true colors are shown. Maybe he’s a little more boring than initial dates indicated or she’s a little too clingy. Either way, when the grind comes along, things can fall apart fast. And particularly with a new coach, desperate to get new talent immediately in the door without perhaps conducting his due diligence in vetting whether or not that top-tier talent truly fits his own style and program. After a few recruiting cycles, Altman will have built his recruiting relationships, established himself as the pre-eminent coach in the Pacific Northwest (wake up call, LoRo?), and get the pick of kids who fit his agenda. At which point, The Matt could be explosive.

Andrew Murawa: Altman is a good enough coach to get whoever is on his roster to overachieve most years, but in order to take Oregon to the heights that the athletic department there wants the basketball program to go, changes need to be made one way or the other. What those changes may be, I certainly don’t know, and I’m probably not alone there. Players abruptly leaving their program in search of greener pastures elsewhere, even at the expense of a year watching from the sidelines, is no longer a surprise, and coaches all around the country are dealing with it. Plenty of kids come into Division I ball after being coddled at the high school and AAU level, and balk at the expectations and competition for playing time in college. Even kids who are getting plenty of run – see Jabari Brown last year for the Ducks as the primary example – are not immune to jumping ship at the first sign of hardship. This still remains the exception rather than the rule, although hundreds of transfers this past offseason certainly seemed to reach epidemic proportions, but it is clear that keeping your hard-won recruits around is going to be a major part of the job description for college basketball coaches. Getting back to Altman, though, it may just be that the very things that make him a coach who is capable of getting his roster to overachieve are also the types of things that cause flitty freshman to flee. Structured offense, commitment to defense, emphasis on conditioning and a burning intensity are successful hallmarks of Altman’s coaching style and could be playing a part in the unceasing exodus of players from Eugene under his reign. The odds of him changing his tune and suddenly becoming a player-friendly coach more like his predecessor Ernie Kent are slim, so he’ll just have to continue taking whatever kids he can get to stick around and get them to produce. In the long run, that may well mean that Altman, as great of an X’s and O’s guy as he is, may not be the right fit in Eugene.

Connor Pelton: Let’s take the easy route and say a little of both. Altman proved last year he can have a relatively successful season (just a Pac-12 Tournament win away from dancing), even with two big recruits transferring out before conference play started. Whether he can continue to do that remains to be seen, so for the time being it’s probably best he focuses on recruits that have the intention of staying at least two years. Even if he continues to pull out these 20-plus win seasons, Altman and staff will at least have to face the “Why is your transfer rate so high” question when they walk into a prospect’s living room. Overall, though, he’s doing a great job in Eugene. Excitement is at its highest since 2008, and Altman’s got another great class coming in. The question is, can he keep all of those guys around for an extended period of time? That remains to be seen, but we do know one thing: winning cures everything.

Connor Pelton (300 Posts)

I'm from Portland. College basketball and football is life.

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